Electronics juggernaut Sony is planning to launch a B2B device platform early next year that will help digital health companies incorporate a straightforward wearable sensor into their existing remote monitoring services.
The mSafety platform — which Sony is previewing today at the Connected Health Conference in Boston — doesn’t look to focus on the apps, color displays or other features that drive tech-savvy users to Apple Watches, Fitbits or other leading consumer smartwatches, Anders Stromberg, head of the wearable platform department in Sony’s European Network Communications group, told MobiHealthNews.
Rather, it wants to deliver an accessible user interface, a secure backend and as few headaches as possible for clients looking to maintain their devices over the long term.
“We’ve been talking to a number of remote monitoring companies and mobile health companies about if they are looking into this kind of make-or-buy decision for adding a wearable into their proposition,” Stromberg said. “We’ve found in a number of companies [that] they definitely don’t want to spend money on developing their own wearable. And they find existing smartwatch solutions being too dependent on … having a mobile phone together with a smartwatch. And [they also want] to have a much more simple solution for their specific use case, so they [want] to remove all these bells and whistle that may be useful for emailing or other things, and really do a dedicated solution.”
The mSafety platform’s wrist-worn device includes a week-or-more battery life, a high contrast black and white screen, onboard health signal sensors and a secure always-on network connection that doesn’t require a login pin or other identification from the end user. Its included sensors For clients, Sony is stressing the platform’s end-to-end data encryption and an easy-to-configure backend, which it said will allow digital health companies to push software updates to user devices with little worry on either end.
Sony is also looking to simplify the expenses of supporting a connected device for its digital health customers, particularly in terms of network maintenance and long-term technical support. Cost-wise, clients will only be on the hook for purchase of the hardware, an activation cost and a single annual maintenance fee.
Sony has been demoing its platform among European users, such as those managing diabetes or others receiving elderly care. However, Stromberg said the company is eyeing the US as its primary market due to its broader acceptance of digital health and remote monitoring technologies.
WHAT’S THE IMPACT
Compared to Samsung, Microsoft, Apple or several other big-name electronics companies, Sony has had a fairly limited presence in the realm of digital health. To carve out its niche, Stromberg said that the mSafety platform focuses on network Sony’s technical and design strengths, while leaving the particulars of health data monitoring and interpretation to its clients.
“We’re maybe not in the situation where we can do the complete turnkey solution, but we’re definitely are experts in the telecommunication part of it, and in manufacturing wearable technologies,” he said. “So with that, we spent quite a lot of time last year doing feasibility studies on different types of chronic conditions … and we found that we could build something that has good battery life, easy to connect, simple user interface — focusing not so much on the gadget but on these kinds of elderly users or people with impairments.”
Much of its approach was also driven by the company’s conversations with potential clients. Outside of usability concerns, Stromberg said that many complained of the frequent firmware updates and feature support of consumer smartwatches, and the increased support burdens they often bring.
“What most of them told us was that often there were so many features in these consumer electronics watches, and they have to maintain that. So, there was a lot of work just keeping them upgraded to the latest and greatest, there were things that were sometimes connected to their application, sometimes not, and it was really giving them headaches,” he said. “[We] explained that they would own the whole real estate on the wristband — it would be for them to decide the whole connectivity to the external sensors and stuff.”
Sony is also looking to establish itself as a long-term partner to young digital health and remote monitoring companies. Stromberg said the company is committing to multi-year support for any devices it’s putting out the door — an especially pertinent selling point in the realm of medical devices — and hopes that its reputation as an established hardware manufacturer will win over new partners.
“It is something that will be around for a very long time. We are addressing that it can be used as a medical device, we will support it as a medical device,” Stromberg said. “We’re willing to keep it alive for them, … if we take the diabetes companies and cardiovascular companies, we see that by providing this deep management function, they can update and upgrade their application over the air in our backend and we will maintain the software, but we are also prepared if they need to have a very long lifespan to their [device] — we know that FDA 510(k) requirements and other regulatory rquirements need all the clinical trial and testing on the devices — we will have this as a platform for the long term and provide that as part of our service to these companies.”
THE LARGER TREND
Despite its selling points, Sony still sees stiff competition from the range of smartwatches already on the market. Apple’s wearable is picking up steam among payers and academics interested in its remote health monitoring capabilities and consumer appeal, while Fitbit’s payer and employer business is increasingly becoming a core source of revenue for the company.
And it’s not like Sony is developing the only health tracking wearable not intended for consumer purchase. The Verily Study Watch and accompanying platform is seeing interest from pharma partners for clinical studies, while AT&T and OneLife Technologies announced their own medical-grade smartwatch with LTE-M certification earlier this year. And that’s not to mention the companies like Current Health who have already taken the time to develop its own health monitoring wearable and are now courting other devices and services to flesh out its platform.